Now that Democrats have seriously started to question the pre-war intelligence they were given, the White House response is to invoke President Clinton. The mainstream media response seems largely to continue their stenographer's act. The widely carried AP story quotes White House press secretary Scott McClellan: "If Democrats want to talk about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed and the intelligence, they might want to start with looking at the previous administration and their own statements that they've made."
He said the Clinton administration and fellow Democrats "used the intelligence to come to the same conclusion that Saddam Hussein and his regime were a threat."
CBS, unlike most news outlets picking up the story, did manage to add that "McClellan did not directly respond when a reporter noted that the Clinton administration did not use that conclusion to go to war."
The press gaggle was far more contentious than AP lets on, notes Dan Froomkin's blog at the Washington Post. He helpfully links to a transcript posted by Think Progress to demonstrate "how skeptically the press corps responded to McClellan's awkward attempt to deflect charges that the White House hyped the threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to war -- by blaming the Clinton administration." Somehow, the skepticism didn't make it into the news that most Americans heard or saw.
At the gaggle, neither Mr. McClellan nor the reporters recalled that President Clinton's response to Saddam was not particularly appreciated by GOP leaders at the time. Leave it to the blogosphere to put the issue into perspective. Dealing with Saddam required that the US "had to be credible with our threats of force to keep him in line," notes Digby:
Clinton said that American policy was that if Saddam took certain threatening actions, we would use force. Bush and Cheney said that Saddam might take threatening actions, so they had to invade. [Emphases in original.]
That's quite a different threat assessment. Clinton never suggested an invasion and occupation to deal with Saddam; his policy was to contain him with threats and judicious use of force when he provoked us. And apparently it worked. There were, after all, no weapons of mass destruction and he had perpetrated none of the other actions that would have led to a need for further use of force as of 2002.
Oh, and for those whose response to the renewed debate on pre-war intel is that "everybody 'knew' Saddam had WMD," don't forget former weapons inspector Scott Ritter in the US, Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and many others were arguing exactly the opposite. Wilkie and Cook even resigned their posts to protest the then-pending war. It was not a "slam dunk."